TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and right now there’s an urgent need for volunteers to support thousands of child abuse victims in the Tampa Bay area.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child abuse and neglect are common. 

At least one in seven children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year in the United States. This is likely an underestimate because many cases are unreported.

However, volunteers like Katie McCarey are working to change those statistics.

“We see drug-exposed newborns in local hospitals as well as egregious abuse cases,” said McCarey.

 McCarey is a Master Guardian ad Litem and has spent the last seven years volunteering with the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office.  Most of her time is spent in children’s hospitals across the Tampa Bay area to provide care and support for child abuse victims.

“Last year we saw 300 children that were in the hospital because the abuse was so egregious,” said McCarey.  “They had to be admitted to the hospital.”

The Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office represents Florida’s abused, abandoned, and neglected children in court and the community.  Through the collaboration of a national best practice multi-disciplinary team that always includes a Guardian ad Litem Attorney, child welfare professional and hopefully a trained volunteer or pro bono attorney from the child’s community, the team provides legal representation for children’s legal interests while assisting the child in expressing their needs and wishes. Volunteers also mentor children outside of the courtroom.

“They may facilitate a child in being able to see their siblings,” said Tabitha Lambert, circuit director for the Guardian ad Litem 13th Judicial Circuit.  “They may take them to Busch Gardens, so there’s a lot of things that they’re able to do as a Guardian ad Litem to help facilitate that bond and relationship to help the volunteer advocate for that child in court.”

McCarey has seen a child blossom with the additional care from a Guardian ad Litem.

“I call it the pivot,” said McCarey.  “They actually pivoted from being abused and they’re pivoted into a normal life.”

For more information about volunteering with the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office or other organizations:

Florida Guardian ad Litem Office

Voices for Children

Mary Lee’s House